With one quick swipe of the broom, my heart set itself up to be broken.
Preoccupied with my thoughts, I ran my broom under the grill on the back porch and out bounced a little Sparrow nestling. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the little gray fur ball and quickly ran to scoop it up in my hands. He appeared perfect and healthy. My heart raced but over the thumping, I heard the chatter going on above me. Still cupping the tiny bird, I looked to see where the racket was coming from and saw a sparrow sitting high on the window ledge of the house next door. She was responding to every chirp of the baby I held gently in my hands. I didn’t know what to do. Did I put the baby down and just let Nature take its course or should I intervene and try to help mother and child reunite? In the blink of an eye, my heart trumped my head and off I went to research how to care for a Sparrow nestling.
Baby...just minutes after I found him.
Most of the day that first day was spent looking out the window into my back yard. With awe, I watched Momma fly in and out of the yard to tend to Baby. According to the research I’d quickly conducted, baby nestling Sparrows who are just about ready to fly, spend a few days on the ground while their mothers continue to feed them and care for them until they’re strong enough to spread their wings and soar. So, with great curiosity and a mother’s heart full of hope for this tiny creature’s success, I watched.
At night, I put Baby in an old mesh butterfly “house” that The Duchess often used to cage various ladybugs and caterpillars. A nice cozy nest was made for him and I sprinkled some hardboiled egg bits with water and put them in for a nightly snack should Baby get hungry. Each morning, Mr. Right would unzip the little door to the house and out would come Baby. His favorite spot was in the shade underneath our sprinkler that looks like a miniature farm tractor and he would usually bounce right over to sit and wait for Momma.
My almost daily tanning sessions in the back yard were forsaken so that Baby and Momma could carry out their business, but I didn’t mind. “There will be time for soaking up the rays once Baby learns to fly,” I thought to myself. Watering the lawn became a manual chore instead of an automated one and I kept all backyard activities to the bare minimum. My puppy, Ellie, was kept on close watch and I’d only take her out to do her necessary business and then scoot her right back in.
On the third day of Operation Baby Watch, the sun was so hot that I rigged my tanning chair over the top of the sprinkler where Baby hung out and put a beach towel over the top so that a nice big patch of shade was created.
Day Four saw the clouds move in and I breathed a sigh of relief that the Sparrow family that now occupied my yard on a daily basis wouldn’t be as parched as the day before. Day Four also marked the day a Sparrow went through my heart.
As I prepared to leave for an appointment and went about the normal tasks of readying The Duchess and myself to leave the house, I called Ellie out to the backyard for a final bit of business before we left. The Duchess followed behind and I told her to keep a close watch on Baby who had made his daily flutter over to the shady patch against the far fence. As Ellie finished up and ran to stand beside me on the porch, I looked at the birdbath and decided to fill it before I left. Retrieving the hose, I stood and let the water run from it for a few seconds so that it wouldn’t be so hot when I filled the bowl. As I turned around, a flash of motion caught my eye. Turning to look, I saw Ellie with her nose to the ground just to the side of the porch. That’s when it happened. In one instant my brain perceived the listless little gray ball on the ground and in the other half of that instant, I found myself in the grass on my knees, sobbing like a lost child. My attention had been diverted for mere seconds, but that was all it had taken for my Ellie to snap up Baby and break his neck.
Bundling Baby up in my hands, I took him inside and, sobbing uncontrollably, found one of my old clean t-shirts and placed his little perfect body inside of it. Now running almost late for my appointment, a shoebox seemed the safest resting place until I could decide what to do.
Two hours later as I headed home, The Duchess just couldn’t take the events of the day anymore and fell asleep. I, on the other hand, took the opportunity of a 45-minute car ride and a sleeping child…to cry. I had failed miserably to keep that sweet and perfect little creature alive and it made me so incredibly sad. Had I not seen with my own eyes the care that Momma took with Baby, maybe I wouldn’t have wept so hard for her loss. But, there I sat in my car, crying as I hadn’t cried in years, for both of our losses.
That evening, we dug a hole by the back porch just a couple of feet from where Baby had sat under the tractor sprinkler for those four days. The Duchess and I placed roses inside the box where Baby rested and The Duchess added a folded picture she’d drawn, on which she had written, “I love you, Baby.” We placed the box in the hole and sprinkled a little dirt on top of it before lowering the rosebush with little pink baby rosebuds on it that I’d purchased for this occasion on my way home earlier.
What exactly made such an impact on me about this experience I’m still not quite sure. I’ve boo hooed less at funerals for humans, for crying out loud. But, what I do know is that the eighty dollars I spent at the bird store the next day, buying feeders and seed made me happy. Happy, because now as I watch out my back window every day I see the Sparrows. I see them and I get to convince myself that they know that I tried and that the birdbaths and feeders are my lame attempt at an apology.